Wednesday, April 2, 2008

GPS Tour: Greystone Mansion

Originally uploaded by greenbeangirl74
Taking advantage of the beautiful Saturday and a chance to spend time with my friend Tina we decided to sitesee a la GPS. So we just randomly started looking for places we'd never been. It turned into a fabulous day that concluded at this mansion, after a trip to the Glendale Cemetery and the best view of the Hollywood Sign ever.

As we headed north on the 5 fwy our final stop was the Greystone Mansion. Originally home to the famous Angelinos, the Doheny's (as in Doheny Drive). The oil baron's son built the home (1926-1928) for over $3 million. It was their family home until 1955. AFI called it home from 1969-1982 then it was purchased by the city of Beverly Hills and designated a park.

It is now used for cultural events, weddings, photo shoots, and movie locations. Movies and tv shows to have filmed there include: Gilmore Girls, Spiderman, Spiderman 3, AirForce One, XMEN, Holiday, There Will Be Blood, Rules of Engagement and What Women Want, just to name a few.

The day we went there was a wedding, so we couldn't wander through the house, but the grounds were still spectacular and gardens were regal. You felt like you were on a movie set.

It would be a very fun place to see a concert or a play. Membership begins at just $50. It is a great way to spend the afternoon.

Greystone Mansion
905 Loma Vista Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

GPS Tour: The Hollywood Sign

Originally uploaded by greenbeangirl74
Second stop on the GPS Tour of April 2008 was the Hollywood Sign. Our first stop was the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale and the final stop is the Greystone Mansion. Followed by dinner at Versailles.

The Hollywood Sign was originally built in 1923 as a real estate beacon by LA Times Publisher Harry Chandler, the $21,000 Hollywoodland Sign was only supposed to last a year and a half. However, more than eight decades later it still represents all the magic of an industry that still draws millions of hopefuls every year.

It measures 450 feet long and each letter is 45 feet tall. It fell into disrepair in the 1960s and 70s as Hollywood lost its luster and its occupants and studios fled to the Valley. As the old theaters started to be restored, so was the sign. Overhauled in the 1990s, now with monument status, it made its world debut ringing in Y2K. In the early 00s state-of-the-art lights and surveillance brought this relic up to date and made it ready to last another 80+ years.

I have seen the sign from the 10 fwy, Hollywood and Highland and the Hollywood Bowl but the view from Beachwood Canyon Drive at Glen Holly is one of, if not the best. If you keep driving up Beachwood Canyon you'll find the entrance to the subdivision that started it all, Hollywoodland. Want to find other great places to see the sign? Click here

GPS Tour: Forest Lawn, Glendale

When you think you've seen all there is to see in your area, consult your GPS to make sure. Wanting to take advantage of a beautiful Saturday my former roommate and dear friend Tina and I headed out in the great blue yonder with only our GPS as our guide. LOL. This is roughing it in LA.

The first stop on our random GPS led Tour was the Forest Lawn Cemetary in Glendale. Other stops on the tour were: the Hollywood Sign and Greystone Mansion.

Why stop at a cemetery? Let me tell you.

Forest Lawn in Glendale is more than a cemetery, it is a veritable cultural experience.

In addition to being the final resting place to over 250,000 people, including the largest number of celebrities, it also houses a museum, wedding chapel, art gallery, and an architectural showcase. Forest Lawn is founded on the belief that there is joy in the life after death.

During our trip we visited an amazing mural, The Crucifixion and Resurrection, a stained-glass replica of the Last Supper, and the Plaza of MesoAmerican Heritage - all part of Forest Lawn's permanent collection.

The Last Supper is one of Leonardo da Vinci's greatest works, and the original is now faded and damaged. Hubert Easton commissioned a stained glass artist from Italy to study da Vinci's sketches and recreate his masterpiece in stained glass for his gallery. It is spectacular. Amazing that it survived being shipped.

The Crucifixion and Resurrection murals are housed in the Hall of Crucifixion and Resurrection, built specifically for these amazing works of art.

The Crucifixion, painted by Polish artist Jan Styka, is the largest framed mounted to canvas painting in the world, standing 195' long by 45' high. It is hard to absorb it all, instead you have to break it down piece by piece, element by element to take it all in. Luckily the painting is narrated and important parts are iilluminated for easy finding.

What struck me most about this fantastic work of art was the story of how it came to Forest Lawn. Artist Jan Styka studied in the holy land and had his palette blessed by Pope Leo the XIII before he began his awesome effort to paint the moment of Christ's crucifixion from all perspectives.

However, when it came to America, in 1904, to be shown at an exhibition St. Louis it was lost. Jan was forced to return to Poland without his masterpiece, and he never saw it again. Dr. Huber Eaton, founder of Forest Lawn, decided to find it and get it a permanent home. In 1944 it was found in a warehouse in Chicago wrapped around a telephone pole.

The Resurrection was painted by American Artist, Robert Clark. With it's completion Forest Lawn created a sacred trilogy of the three most significant events in Christ's life - the Last Supper, Crucifixion, and Resurrection.

The Plaza of MesoAmerican Heritage has beautiful sculptures and amazing views.

Never fear, there are also a ton of celebrities to be found at Forest Lawn. In fact, it is the final resting place for the greatest number of celebrities in the world. Here is a small sample of those buried on site. Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Jimmy Stewart, Jean Harlow, Humphrey Bogart, Mary Pickford, Errol Flynn, and Spencer Tracy. George Burns & Gracie Allen, W.C. Fields, Sammy Davis Jr., Walt Disney, Red Skelton, Lon Chaney, Ethel Waters, Alan Ladd, Dick Powell, Ted Knight, Sam Cooke, Joe E. Brown, Nat King Cole, Norma Shearer, Chico Marx, Dorothy Dandridge, Sid Grauman, Casey Stengel, Larry Fine, Aimee Semple McPherson, Louis L'Amour and L. Frank Baum.

However, Forest Lawn employees will not help you find these graves on their expansive grounds. Rather they frown on it and have on occasion confiscated grave maps.

This is not your average cemetery.

Forest Lawn — Glendale

1712 S. Glendale Avenue
Glendale, CA 91205

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Cupcake Tour of Los Angeles

Vanilla Bake Shop
Originally uploaded by greenbeangirl74
Cupcakes have made quite the comeback. They are no longer the cake's red-headed stepsister and nor are they relegated to birthday treats for elementary school kids. They are now the romantic lead for bakeries all over the southland.

Perhaps the most famous one is Sprinkles, but it is far from the best. I mean the red velvet are delicious, I can't lie, but I find the other flavors a little dry and lacking in deliciousness. I want to like them but they don't cause any mouthgasms for me.

So Erika consulted Yelp and created a tour schedule for us. Yelpers are very vocal about their cupcakes and that Sprinkles isn't the only sweet spot on the block.

We decided that each place we would try three flavors. The control cupcakes were red velvet and chocolate. The third would be our choice based on the variety offered at each establishment. We were taking our taste testing very seriously. The other essential element was milk.

Our first stop was at the Buttercake Bakery in West Los Angeles on Pico. It is an unassuming storefront along the busy street that you could miss if you weren't looking for it. This place is not suited for loitering, there is little room for sitting. Definitely for take out.

Buttercake has three standard flavors: chocolate, red velvet and buttercream. The variance is the frosting available in seven flavors from cream cheese to cookies-n-cream. Each cupcake is $2.25.

The cupcakes themselves are non-descript. They look like something I would make at home. Nothing special. Not grand. Not ostentacious at all.

On the red velvet the cream cheese frosting was great. Very creamy and flavorful. The cake however was dry as a bone. I went through a pint of milk to wash it all down. The buttercream was ok, frosting a bit too sweet. The chocolate was my least favorite frosting and cake just not that chocolatey or memorable. We decided this was a good baseline for our tour. Also to be fair I've heard that the lemon bars and carrot cake are their real forte.

Next stop was Yummy Cupcakes in Santa Monica on Wilshire. Now this place is obviously dedicated to cupcakes. They don't dabble in anything else. The menu is expansive with daily flavors (198 on the menu, though all not available everyday) and even 45 vegan offerings. Every cupcake comes in three sizes, the mini, classic and jumbo ranging in price from $1.35 to $2.75 and $4. The minis and jumbos are generally special order, but a few on hand everyday.

Cupcake flavors at Yummys are quite unique - apple martini, arnold palmer, buttered popcorn, chocolate chili, cosmopolitan and figgy pudding. We arrived late in the day and many of the fun flavors were sold out, so we stuck to the plan.

Knowing we had another stop we decided to cut the cupcakes in half this time and take some home. There are so many choices we stood and stared at the board for a while. The staff was helpful, made great suggestions and didn't mind that it took us a while to order. Great customer service. My third choice this time was an almond joy, my favorite candy bar.

I have to say, every cupcake was pretty good. The cake was moist. The frosting was creamy, rich and abundant. I think the frosting was at least 3/4" high on each cupcake. Even the classic size is quite generous. These cakes should be shared and eaten slowly over time. They are decadent indeed. I loved all of them. Be sure to check the web site to see what's available on the day you go. This is a perfect stop when you're in Santa Monica.

Our third and final stop was the Vanilla Bake Shop, down the street on Wilshire in Santa Monica. This is an upscale, classy bakery with really cute packaging and decor. You feel like you're in a French pastry shop. It's very cute.

At this point I was in a near sugar coma. I really should have eaten lunch before we started this venture. I was on serious overload. My sweet tastebuds were shorting out. We stopped to drink some water and milk to try and cleanse the palette. We also opted for minis to share.

The cupcakes were good. Not as rich as Yummy's but still good and the shop was so adorable it made for a great experience. We enjoyed sitting there tasting and talking. The eat-in area is small but not cramped. Each table has a flower and the shop is so cute you can't help but love it.

Overall I would say that Yummy's was my favorite but Vanilla Bake Shop ranks up there as well. Really three very different experiences, all depends on what you're in the mood for.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Huntington Gardens

One of my favorite places to visit in all of Southern California is The Huntington Library and Gardens. I have been at least 100 times over the years, if not more, and am amazed every time.

Driving down Allen Ave from the 210 you enter the grounds through a massive black, elaborate gate, greeted by a friendly security guard and with a wave of his hand granted entrance to the massive 600-acre estate full of every kind of flower, climate, tree, and herb. It is a true urban escape. You forget that you're 30 minutes from LA. You can pretend you're an honored guest of the Huntington's as you wander over their expansive lawn, read in a secluded cluster of trees on a hidden bench or let your kids run free.

Incredibly beautiful, peaceful and serene this former estate of Henry and Isabella Huntington was built to focus on their massive art, books and landscaping passions. Gardens include: Rose, Japanese, Chinese, Camellia, Shakespeare, Childrens, Jungle and Palm. Click here to see what's in bloom.

There are continual exhibits, rotating collections and perennial favorites on display in one of the several on-site galleries including the Huntington Art Gallery, Virginia Steele Scott Gallery, and Boone Gallery. Favorite events every year is the Shakespeare Festival, Plant Sales, Flower Shows, and countless lectures to enrich your historical, horticultural brain.

One of my most favorite things is having tea in this beautiful setting. A buffet approach, this is a great way to start or cap off your trip to the gardens. It's a bit pricey, $24.95 plus the cost of admission. It is worth the treat! The tea is competitively price for tea in the Pasadena area.

You can visit the gardens for free on the first Thursday of the month, with prior reservation. Otherwise, as of 2010, it costs $15 M-Th and $20 on weekends. Members always get in for free. It is so worth it!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Lunch at Montage Resort

Originally uploaded by greenbeangirl74
To celebrate my boss' birthday he treated us to lunch at The Montage in Laguna Beach.

I don't know how we score lunch by the beach for his birthday but I'll take it. He's a cool boss like that.

The Montage is a four star hotel and spa right on the water. The views are spectacular and the resort is luxurious and spendy. One night at the Montage averages about $400. A facial in the spa starts at like $250. Yea, not for the faint of heart.

We dined at the Mosaic Bar and Grille. Located outside, on a patio by the pool you are treated to majestic view of the grounds and ocean. The service is amazing. The menu is diverse and ranges from burgers to halibut tacos.

For appetizers we had the Romanesco Flatbread with Spanish Chorizo, Goat & Mozzarella Cheeses, Basil, and Romesco Sauce. It was AMAZING. It was also $20.

I tried the Mosaic “Prime” Burger on a Sesame Seed Bun with fries for lunch. The burger wasn't spectacular. Nothing you couldn't get at Red Robin for much cheaper than the $22 price tag. Other entrees at the table were the grilled salmon salad, blackened mahi mahi sandwich, and teriyaki chicken sandwich.

Everyone said their meal was good. I think the only one that raved was the boss who ordered the salmon salad. He said it was delicious.

Now desert on the other hand is worth ranting and raving about we had creme brulee with organic madagascar vanilla ice cream. So good. We couldn't get enough.

A trip to the Montage is an experience worth every penny. After lunch we strolled around the path that winds around the ocean cliff. It's relaxing, elegant and generally wonderful. You must go.

30801 South Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, CA. 949-715-6000.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

El Gaucho Grill

NOTE: El Gaucho Grill is now Carvao Grill focusing on Brazilian and Argentinian cuisine. I have not been to the new place.

Mouth-watering steaks, deliciously flavored chorizo and herbirific chimichurri sauce, oh yea, I'm talking Argentinian food.

El Gaucho Grill, located in downtown Brea, right across the street from theatres and surrounded by coffee houses, other restaurants this sleek little place stands out with bold yet classic flavor blends.

Every table is given a basket of sliced bread and a dish of chimichurri. It is so good! It is perfectly enhanced with empanadas or a taste of Argentinian chorizo sausage.

I am a creature of habit and generally order the garlic chicken. It is a butterflied chicken breast, bathed in roasted garlic cloves served with a rice pilaf and side salad. So good.

I have also tasted the steak and roasted chicken. I have never had anything I didn't enjoy.

210 W. Birch St., Unit 102
Brea, CA 92821
(714) 990-9140

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Birthday at Lips Drag Club for Gospel Brunch

Lips - Drag Show
Originally uploaded by greenbeangirl74
Our very own diva Janine wanted to do something different for her birthday. So she decided what could be better than a drag show at Lips in San Diego for gospel brunch hosted by Sister Nun-of-the-Above.

It was a four hours of jaw-droppping, cleavage-showing, gender-bending interestingness. LOL. I had no idea what to expect. I have never been to a drag show before, but was game for anything.

The show is irreverent, sarcastic and occassionally amazing. Some of the drag queens are incredible performers. Just as some are incredibly beautiful. I was amazed. Make-up is flawless, everything is hidden and since they often shove your face in their cleavage or even rattle your head between their legs you get a close-up view. It's also very interactive as you are all invited to "beam a queen" with dollar bills when you love the performance.

We were a group of 12, including a couple of men. I felt bad for them they were hit on constantly but were good sports about it. The food was expensive, pretty bad and took forever to arrive, but you're not there for the food or the watered-down over-priced drinks.

Overall, I have to say, it was really long. I think I would have liked the show a lot better if it were only a couple of hours versus the entire afternoon or if I would have gotten drunk. Go for bitchy bingo, diva night (80s). But I didn't much get into the gospel brunch.

I don't really feel the need to go again.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Bahia Resort Hotel

Imagine the finest hotel that San Diego had to offer, in 1960.

That would be the Bahia Resort Hotel and where we stayed to celebrate Nicole's elopement and Janine's birthday. Located on Mission Bay you can tell that this hotel used to be state of the art. It has the Dirty Dancing, all inclusive resort, feel. It was Miss Havisham's house, dressed for a party, one that was completely outdated.

Ok, you get the jist.

The hotel is painted a lovely shade of pinkish orange. The stairs and landings and patios are covered in green astro turf. Walking in we saw an exposed cement brick wall, art from the 70s, couches from the 50s and a very dated kitchen. It was retro unchic. LOL.

However we had a fantastic bay view, thanks to our birthday girl Janine. She's a beautiful diva who is unafraid to ask for what she wants. And we got it. All her efforts got us this upgraded suite. Oh yes, this was the suite. Sexy!

Who cares about accomodations when you're with two great friends, celebrating two great events in a great city like San Diego. We had a blast. I think going in the summer vs January the place might be really fun. They even have activities for families, can't beat that.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Olvera Street

Want to visit Mexico without leaving LA? Go to the birthplace of Los Angeles, Olvera Street. Home to 27 historic buildings, countless stands selling Mexican souvenirs and many different restaurants serving taquitos and full traditional entrees. It is a fun place to wander around tasting churros, fresh fruit and tacos.

A great time to visit is during Cinco de Mayo festivals (May), Mexico's Independence Day (Sept) or Dia de Los Muertos (Nov) and Christmas (Dec). The public square is full of additional vendors, sponsors, decorations, and musicians. It is colorful, delicious and a taste of one of the predominant cultures in Los Angeles.

We wandered down to Olvera on a whim. What a treat! We felt like we were in Mexico. I can't wait to go back for one of the festivals.
Olvera Street El Pueblo De Los Angeles Historic Park, 845 N. Alameda Street,
Los Angeles, CA 90012